European Union driving sustainable urban cooperation between cities

Pier Roberto Remitti, Team Leader, International Urban Center, European Union, speaks to OBOR editorial team about the significance of climate change and impact on cities. Remitti stresses on exchange of information and cooperation between cities as it is the only solution to get effective results.

Can you please elaborate on the work that your organization is doing across the continents?

International Urban Cooperation is a new program started by the European Union addressing urban sustainable development cooperation. It includes five major regions of the world that includes North America, South America, Asia, Japan and India as well. Indian branch will be part of the global program that will address the issue of cooperation between European cities and cities across the world. Basically, we are working in two main fields. First is the city to city transfer of information and ideas on sustainable development. For example water management, waste management, urban planning and urban design. The second is in the area of climate change. There is a new forum emerging that is covenant of mayors around the world.

All the mayors from across the world need to get effective results while fighting climate change. It has become a big issue everywhere. In many countries there is an emergency like situation, so attention on climate change at the local level is the only solution to get effective results. We are collecting these information and passing it on to cities. That is forging cooperation. Private sector will also be involved in this process. So not only city administration but also NGOs and civil society will have to play a big role.  We are also going to create opportunities for the cities in innumerable ways, so sustainable development is key message.

Climate change is a big issue at global level. We saw historic Paris Agreement being signed recently where world leaders agreed to cut the carbon emission and arrest environmental degradation and global warming. But, since then leadership has changed in many countries and the new ones are not willing to confirm the agreement and even threatening to pull out. Is there a danger of Paris Agreement falling apart?

Paris Agreement is the most important one in the field of the climate change. For the first time, it was recognised that local governments are key agent in the fight against the climate change.  So we are also emphasizing on the importance of the Paris Agreement from local government perspective. I am quite optimistic about the Paris Agreement.

I am sure that European Union will not only maintain its level of commitment but even increase it in the future. Countries like China and India are key players in the global scenario so far as climate change is concerned and they will play their part in the process.  I am quite confident that even market dynamics will be quite positive. The prices of solar panel are coming down and more and more countries and cities are going to use this clean source of energy.

A new phenomenon is fast gaining currency. That is city to city cooperation. For example, a city in Britain may be talking to a European city and sharing knowledge and expertise say in the fields of waste management, transport etc. Do you see this phenomenon growing in the coming days?

This is going to be extremely important in the future. Dynamics between cities are moving at a much faster rate and are providing much needed impetus to the market as well compared to the global scenario. Market and innovation industry are working at a greater speed at the city level. I have worked with the local governments across the countries over last three decades and I can say with confidence that dynamics in this case is very positive. In this sector networking is going to increase manifold in the coming days.

Recently a covenant of mayors forum has been launched. What kind of a role do you see them playing in finding innovative solutions to the problems cities are plagued with these days?

They are going to play extremely critical role in coming years. European cities were part of the previous covenant not the present one but they are going to join the new one. There were about seven thousand members which was quite huge in itself and they were able to do a lot. Of course, cities have their own limitations and they can only work in their sector of competence. We are not considering them to work with the industry for the reduction of carbon dioxide.

The two core sectors for cities are housing and mobility and still they have been able to reduce emission by twenty seven percent which is quite significant and almost met the target at the national level. It means that cities are by themselves able to work in this field. They just need to be empowered across the world. In Europe, local governments have a very high degree of autonomy. They can take decisions and implement them. They have the money and they spend it as per their requirement. That is not the case in every country. Cities need resources to work. And once that happens these resources are also going to feed the national policy.

Earlier you talked about the role of private sector in mitigating environmental degradation? Over the years we have seen that their role is recognised but they have not come forward in the way they should and shoulder the responsibility. Where do you think the problem lies?

I understand there are conflicting interests working at cross purposes. The other day I had a very useful meeting with various organisations. One of them was CDP which focuses on reduction of carbon emission and footprint by the industry. They are getting absolutely fantastic results. Initially they started with a very small number of companies supporting their campaign.

Those companies are reporting to CDP as to how much emission they are producing through their production cycle and how they are reducing it, so initially this number was in double digit, now its in thousands across the world.

UCLG ASPAC is also playing a role in promoting the International Urban Cooperation in Asian cities with following conceptual framework

  • Share knowledge and encourage the creation of cooperation under the scheme of South-South Cooperation;
  • Upscaling of Public Space Development in Surabaya by Solo, Seberang Perai;
  • Knowledge sharing in Waste to Energy field by delegates from Bangladesh to be replicated in Jambi and Malang;
  • Decentralized cooperation within Southeast Asia;
  • Knowledge sharing on developing sustainable mobility in Surakarta and Salatiga.